Life is a valuable thing. There are those moments where it’s set to disappoint, yet there’s still hope to be had, It’s a Wonderful Life reminds us why we should keep hope. It’s a cliché Christmas tradition to watch this every year, but it’s easy to see why. There are those moments where we feel insignificant (and they come back to me then and there), but a reminder is sometimes necessary that in fact, we might have a bigger impact than we’d imagine. Frank Capra’s film bombed during its first run, but its popularity just grew so suddenly. The wonders still capture me upon every viewing, and despite my usual pessimism there’s always something good turning back to the joy that is It’s a Wonderful Life. It reminds a person like myself that there is always something good to look out for, even when we are shrouded with bad.
We observe the life of George Bailey, and over time we just see what impact he creates not only within his own life but into the lives of others. He carries such a likable personality because he is also such a relatable character, especially if you are rather pessimistic towards life. Yet we notice his struggle and as time goes on, we feel for him. We feel for him especially because Frank Capra has made us as his audience grow so close to such an amazing person. You recognize all that is good which he has done for his many peers and his own family, you can only imagine what life would be like had he not ever been around. From the title, It’s a Wonderful Life makes its intention clear – no matter what you may feel like you are, you still have an amount worth owing to that has left its mark upon many others in some way or another. Your life is always something of value, one thing that keeps slipping my mind for I always forget my own self-worth from time to time (much so to that point I’ve attempted suicide).
He is played wonderfully by the ever-so-fantastic James Stewart. Stewart himself also considers It’s a Wonderful Life among all the films he has starred in to be his favourite, and while my personal favourite is Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder it is easy to see where his favour towards this Capra classic comes from. Like always, he creates such an array of emotion and fills the screen to the brim with such a wide display of talent, and he also formed within the end one of the greatest performances of all time. It is not only a great performance because of the character and his arc, it is a great performance because James Stewart actually manages to become George Bailey.
The screenplay, written by Capra, Albert Hackett, and Frances Goodrich, is also one of the finest examples of the craft that I’ve ever come across. It is so structurally sound from beginning to end, it never feels dated, and it’s just an absolute wonder reading into such amazing dialogue. The title itself, It’s a Wonderful Life already is a perfect explanation for what we are witnessing on the screen. We are witnessing a wonderful life take place on the screen from the distant memories of childhood to a much harsher reality within adulthood. We witness the many joys and tragedies that define a life. It comes from here alone that It’s a Wonderful Life creates a sense of realism that plays out at such an unexpected turn within the classic period of Hollywood, in how it recognizes what forms humanity.
Capra’s greatest achievement comes from the fact he is able to capture such sentimentality in a way, where it really fits the scenario. It never does too much of it for its own good, but it helps within establishing a bittersweet note for the film. When we do get to the end, it’s a happy moment, yet it’s so happy to the point we even get an urge to cry. It’s a celebration of redemption, after having been guided through a stressful point of life, and then we just feel a need to break out. The many times I come back to look at just that ending sequence I get the urge to cry, because it’s where one realizes they are indeed significant after all. It is truly one of the most bittersweet endings ever to be put on film, and at that, one of the very greatest in what it elicits.
And even when it isn’t Christmastime, the message is one that lasts throughout the year. It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie to help one feel good especially during times where they see insignificance. Frank Capra’s masterpiece has already been seen as a Christmas tradition around here, and it isn’t a film where I’m merely watching these people, but living them. It’s a Wonderful Life is indeed, a wonderful film. There’s a reason as to why It’s a Wonderful Life still holds the distinction of being the very best of all Christmas films, it is because the best Christmas films are not films that are destined only to be watched within said time. It is because It’s a Wonderful Life has an emotional core that resonates even after Christmastime. You do not need to watch It’s a Wonderful Life during Christmastime to remind yourself that there is still joy to look out for, because quite frankly, it runs through all the year.
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll talk a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne!
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Paramount.
Directed by Frank Capra
Screenplay by Frank Capra, Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, from The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern
Produced by Frank Capra
Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Gloria Grahame
Release Year: 1946
Running Time: 130 minutes